Saturday, January 31, 2009

When We All Work Together We All Win Together


This a cheap framed photograph that I bought years ago and have hanging in my classroom. It makes a statement about teamwork which is one of the dynamics of a classroom.

Many years ago when I was quite young I remember seeing a variety TV programme. One of the acts was a man who spun plates on the top of tall thin poles. He would spin one plate and then start another. By the time he got to about the 8th plate he was having to run back to the first plate which was getting a bit wobbly and threatening to crash to the floor. By the time he got to number 12 it seemed almost an impossibility - he was running about like a blue arsed fly as the saying goes, trying as hard as he could to keep the whole show on the road. As a young child in a large family of about 6 children (soon to be 8) I couldn't for the life of me figure out why the man just didn't ask someone to help him spin the plates - that would be a good idea I thought, and make it so much easier. Of course the variety show is about skill not about logic.

In a few days time I will have a new class of children. They will be bright eyed and bushy tailed as the saying goes and ready to learn. It is a good school where I work with relatively few social problems and the children generally bring good will and a desire to learn to school each day in their schoolbags.

So - We will talk about this photograph of the sky divers and I will explain to them all about the plates (leaving out the bit about the blue arsed fly) and talk about teamwork, and helping and monitors and helpers and volunteering etc. I will try and ice this cake of strategies during the year with positive reinforcement, reward systems, stamps and stickers and certificates and all the other systems and ideas that teachers use to make things run smoothly. Of course moi is not a perfect human being and neither are children so from time to time every thing will break down and there will be problems but generally the target is teamwork and the creation of a learning environment within the classroom.

Classrooms are microcosms of the larger world and contain within them what is known as the hidden curriculum. Many parents think that schools are or should be solely about the delivery of the official curriculum but the reality is that a huge amount of social and interpersonal learning goes on as well. The variables in this learning are egos, personal needs, individual behavioural expectations, personal spaces, personal boundaries, rights and responsibilities etc, etc, etc, etc... It is the interpersonal relationship of two writ large in a class of 25 or more. Sometimes everything works like a a well oiled machine, sometimes it explodes like a can of paint that has been hit with a sledge hammer, but most of the time it is somewhere in between these two extremes.

And as for myself as the teacher and leader in the room who will be struggling from time to time with my own set of 25 to 30 plates whirling endlessly on the tops of tall thin poles - I will remember that it is not a one dimensional act of skill like the old variety show on the black and white TV. My work is necessarily about skill just like the plate spinner. But it is bigger than that. It is also about logic, knowledge, humanity, behavioural management, inspiration, creativity, social work and much more. In fact it is a real balancing act - a year long variety show in four one term acts.



Katherine said...

Yup. Sure is. A whole lot of dear little personalities! All the best for the new term Pal. I'd love to come up and re-spin some plates for you!

Delwyn said...

Your littlies are going to learn much more than the 3 Rs from you my friend...
From you they will catch the zest for life; they will enjoy your humour and look for the quirky side of life; they will experience the joy of learning and follow your lead of questioning and curiosity. I am sure that you will leave a big mark on the minds and souls of the little people you teach this year.

Mr. Kinder said...

OK, Alden.

This post is too good for words.

Thank you for writing it. You wrote eloquently about feeling I have had at the beginning of a school year.

I posted a link to it from my website and I hope all the parents in my classroom go over and read it.

Alden said...

Katherine, rather than coming up and spinning plates why don't I hire an aircraft hanger, we round up 10,000 people with plates and skinny poles and try for the Guiness Book Of Records!

Alden said...

Delwyn, thank you for that affirmation, that is really kind of you to say all that :-)

Life is about many things, but for us humans who are such social animals, relationships are at the pivotal point of almost everything we do - and humour, good will and good intentions are the glue that hold all of this social stuff together.

Alden said...

Dan - thankyou, and you write pretty eloquently yourself you know - I certainly enjoy reading your websites - I wonder if you find like me that more than one site is a lot of work ? - I tend to concentrate mainly on this one. I would be interested in your thoughts on that. Thankyou for posting a link to this site, anyone visiting is most welcome and I hope they enjoy what they read.

Mr. Kinder said...

Two sites ARE a lot of work. I'd really rather have only one. But I've got what feels like two lives running now: teaching kindergarten and tending to my philosophical side. They're obviously related.

I'm trying to respect my kindergarten audience (which is larger) by confining my comments on Mr. Kindergarten to kindergarten issues and not imposing my Buddhism and such on them.

By the same token, the Mindful Heart blog takes up issues that are not of immediate concern to kindergarten teachers or parents. It's written for my sangha members both near and far.